Stuxnet Reportedly Sourced to Israel and the U.S.
News emerged today that speculation about Stuxnet having been created by either the United States or Israel to attack Iran's nuclear capabilities might have been true. The worm, which reportedly hit at least five Iranian uranium enriching plants during a 10-month period last year, might have come from either or both of the countries.
In a book excerpt published today on The New York Times Web site, Times reporter David Sanger quoted several government officials in the Bush and Obama administrations on a not-for-attribution basis.
Among the biggest revelations in Sanger's piece:
- The Bush Administration started the planning and work on what would be dubbed by security researchers as Stuxnet. The official codename for the operation was "Olympic Games."
- Stuxnet was never intended to get outside the Natanz plant in Iran. A programming error caused it to spread onto an engineer's laptop and then out into the wild, where security researchers noticed it in the summer of 2010.
- The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) worked with Israel's Unit 8200 to develop the worm, which the Americans referred to as "the bug." Two imperatives drove U.S. cooperation: Israeli's deep intelligence about operations at Natanz, and ensuring Israel's full awareness of progress to dissuade them from conducting a pre-emptive strike.
- Both presidents were closely involved in planning the development of Stuxnet (Bush) and the attacks using the code weapon (Obama).
- Before it was deployed against Iran, "the bug" was tested on a replica of Natanz using similar centrifuges the U.S. confiscated in 2003 from Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi when he gave up his nuclear weapons program.
More information will be present in Sanger's book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power," available Tuesday.
Having these facts in the open, introduces a whole new set of thorny questions, according to security experts. For example, in a comment e-mailed to reporters, Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, wrote, "This news changes everything, it opens a Pandora's box of new complications. Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day."
As one immediate implication, he suggests opponents of the U.S. Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act will have a new line of attack.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.